Friday, July 1, 2011

Kobe Bryant: Can Will Power and Focus Slow the March of Time?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant is locked in a battle against time that he cannot win and the only real question is how long will it take before before Bryant succumbs to the inevitable?

Some people think age has already left a discernible mark on Bryant's game, and the 2011 NBA Playoffs does provide a bit of an arguing point for those who say his game is in full decline.

Bryant's 22 point per game average during the postseason was one of the worst of his illustrious career, but the manner in which the Lakers lost to the Dallas Mavericks and Bryant's inability to shift the tide was revealing.

Losing to the Mavericks in the playoffs is one thing, but getting swept is something entirely different, and when you add in Bryant's performance in the face of adversity you enter a whole new realm.

Bryant didn't exactly play badly against the Mavericks, but after Game 1 the feeling that he could change the scope of the series through his skill, focus and sheer will power evaporated.

In other words, Bryant suddenly looked very old, which is not a good thing for a player who will be looking to prove that the 2011 postseason was an anomaly.

Age and the progression of time form a tandem that no NBA player has ever defeated and even the greatest performers in the history of the game must bow to the eventual.

Bryant is often compared to former Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan, who was able to side-step time through his unbelievable will power and reach the pinnacle of success at the ripe old age of 35.

Bryant will enter next season younger than Jordan, but the wear of 15 professional seasons makes him look a little older than Jordan did at the same stage of their career.

And Bryant is certainly more battered as he still carries around the vestiges of a knee injury that will likely trouble him until the day he retires, and most Lakers fans are resigned to the fact that the disfigured finger on his shooting hand will never be whole again.

But does that mean 2011 was the last hurrah for one of the NBA's true legendary players or does Bryant still have enough gas left in the tank and hunger in his eyes for one or two more memorable seasons?

Bryant has gained a reputation as one of the more focused and determined players in the NBA and there is no doubt that he will use the residue of the 2011 postseason as fueling motivation for the upcoming season, but is that enough?

Most NBA fans feel Bryant has already ceded the title of the NBA's top player, and those same fans also feel that Bryant has been surpassed as the league's best shooting guard by Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade.

That may be true but it doesn't change the fact that the pickings for elite shooting guards in the NBA are very slim, and even if Wade has eclipsed Bryant, is there another shooting guard besides Wade that you would even dare compare to Bryant?

Bryant is still one of the NBA's elite players and the turmoil surrounding the Lakers and the uncertainty of their future in the midst of a coaching change will definitely provide inspiration for the upcoming campaign.

I expect Bryant to start the 2011-12 season with a renewed passion but the specter of age and deteriorating skills will be nipping closely at his heels.

In all honesty it is a race that Bryant will eventually lose, but will that defining moment be realized next season?

By Hadarii Jones (Lakers Featured Columnist)


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